Vanuatu Fernwood Grade Ritual Figure from Ambrym Island. A sculpture carved from a solid section of the fibrous trunk of a tree fern composed of aerial roots surrounding a woody core, in the distinctive Vanuatu human form of a large headed male crouching with extended belly, the elongated arms extending underneath with the fingers touching, prominent pointed nose with flared nostrils, protruding round disc eyes, crested hair.
Measuring: 49in. (124cm.) high without stand. Marble stand optional: 8-1/2in. (22cm.) high x 11-3/4in. (30cm) square.
Figures such as these were created as part of the complex system of 'grade' rituals through which an individual was able to progress through a succession of different ranks, each of which conferred increasing social status, religious knowledge and, most crucially, equivalent rank in the afterlife. Indeed, on rare occasion it was possible for an individual who had attained the highest possible grade to become a member of the 'living dead', possessing the status of a revered ancestor even before their physical death. Progression in grade could take several years, and each increase in rank required ever greater expense and effort, with the initiate compelled to commission artworks and to distribute wealth, usually in the form of sacred tusker pigs. Figures were used in only one ceremony and different sizes were required for each increase in grade. During the grade rites, grade figures are erected on the dancing ground and serve as temporary abode for the spirits associated with the grade. After the ceremony, the figure, its purpose served, is left on the dancing ground, its supernatural powers waning as it slowly deteriorates.
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